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A Healthy Return on Your Town Hall Meeting Investment—Getting to Outcomes: Restricted Sales of Alcohol at Public Events

02/15/2012

When it comes to underage drinking, no one wants to leave a return on an investment in prevention to chance. Instead, given our limited resources, we want to know what actions can yield positive measurable outcomes. During 2012, tens of thousands of community members of all ages will participate in the fourth nationwide round of underage drinking Town Hall Meetings supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Concerned community members know just how high the stakes are—underage drinking threatens the health and safety of individuals, families, and communities everywhere. Many communities will use a Town Hall Meeting to engage their members in moving beyond awareness of underage drinking to proven prevention. One effective environmental prevention1 approach is restricted sales of alcohol at public events.

What are restricted sales of alcohol at public events?
This approach involves policies that limit and control the availability and use of alcohol at public events, such as concerts, street fairs, and sports events. Restrictions can be voluntary or mandated by local legislation. One positive example of this approach was implemented by the University of Arizona in the mid-1990s as a way to address the issue of alcohol-related problems at the university’s annual homecoming. In collaboration with campus police, the university banned alcohol advertising and sponsorships, mandated that tailgating tents include a trained bartender, required liability insurance for tent owners, banned the display or consumption of alcohol on parade floats, and used the local media to publicize and the police to strongly enforce all of the above policies. The outcome was a reduced availability of alcohol, elimination of beer kegs, more food and nonalcoholic drinks, a greater presence of bartenders, and fewer complaints from the surrounding neighborhoods during homecoming.2

How do restricted sales of alcohol at public events reduce underage drinking?
Less access to alcohol by minors results in less underage drinking. Some evidence also suggests that these restrictions may reduce alcohol-related problems, such as traffic crashes, vandalism, fighting, and other public disturbances. For example, one study found that 97 U.S. cities that banned alcohol consumption in public places and had more restrictions at sporting events experienced fewer alcohol-related traffic fatalities.3

How can my community take this action?
In promoting restrictions or ordinances addressing alcohol sales at public events, encourage your community to support inclusion of the following measures:

  • Restrict the issuance of alcohol sales licenses at youth- and family-related community events.
  • Restrict or prohibit alcohol sponsorship for community events.
  • Ban the sale of alcohol at events and locations that are popular with underage youth.
  • Enforce strict conditions for alcohol sales and consumption at events in order to reduce youth access, such as:
    • Designate restricted drinking sections at special events where young people are not allowed;
    • Ban attendants/participants in community events from bringing alcohol; and
    • Require easily distinguishable cups for alcoholic beverages.
  • Prohibit open containers in unsupervised public locations.
  • Enforce alcohol restrictions vigorously both at public events and in public places.
  • Establish standard procedures for dealing with intoxicated persons in public areas and at community events.

Also, be sure to measure and report on the effectiveness of restricted sales of alcohol at public events in reducing problems related with underage drinking. Publicizing positive outcomes isvital to ensuring public support and the sustainability of environmental prevention. The following examples may be useful outcomes to track as a result of enacting or improving the restrictions on selling alcohol at public events:

  • Rate of complaints from neighborhoods about a public event.
  • The number of event-specific law enforcement actions. These actions could include verbal warnings for alcohol violations, ejections from sporting events, and disorderly conduct and other alcohol-related arrests (e.g., assault).
  • Rates of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and associated injuries and fatalities. (One common indicator used is single-vehicle crashes between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., which is a measure closely related to alcohol-related crashes involving drivers with illegal blood alcohol levels.)
  • Enforcement of drinking under the influence laws.

Helpful Resources

The University of Minnesota’s Alcohol Epidemiology Program offers a variety of materials, including handouts and posters, which you can use to promote alcohol control at public events.

Establishing alcohol restrictions in public locations is a best practice described in the October 2006 revised edition of Regulatory Strategies for Preventing Youth Access to Alcohol: Best Practices, a report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention.

SAMHSA’s Focus on Prevention is available from the SAMHSA Store in print and electronically.

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: What It Means to You: A Guide to Action for Communities summarizes facts and recommendations from the 2007 Surgeon General’s appeal to the Nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit has information on how to expand your organization’s outreach.

Sources

1 Effective environmental prevention targets four key areas that influence alcohol problems: access and availability, policy and enforcement, community norms, and media messages. Research shows that policies that change the context of the environment, limit access to alcohol, and prevent harmful behavior will result in reduced alcohol use, including underage drinking.

2 Johannessen, K., Glider, P., Collins, C., Hueston, H., & DeJong, W. (2001). Preventing alcohol-related problems at the University of Arizona’s homecoming: An environmental management case study. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 27(3), 587–597.

3 Cohen, D., Mason, K., & Scribner, R. (2002). The population consumption model, alcohol control practices, and alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Preventive Medicine, 34(2), 187–197.